Pettah Effect – grooming you for the big leagues

Pettah Effect is a dedicated movement for young potentials, that which aims to bring forth raw talent by providing the equipment and resources to make and produce music at no cost to the artist and all that is asked in return – commitment, creativity, and talent. Their third live concert titled “Rendezvous – Pettah Effect live in concert” will be held on April 27.

Two years into it, the somewhat unconventional (to Sri Lanka) record label is going strong, with a membership of about 20-30 artistes with a considerable following that is growing fast; it appears to be full steam ahead for the label.

This week, we sat down with the men behind the curtain – camera-shy and unwilling to take part in any PR; we’re somewhat handicapped in introducing whose brainchild the initiative really is. Regardless they wish for the focus to remain solely on the artistes, and so it shall be.

However, every great movement has an origin story worth talking about, a destiny they wish to someday conquer, and an overall developmental arc with some interesting twists and turns we can all learn a little something from, so here’s a little glimpse into what’s been the good, bad, and the ugly of Pettah Effect’s journey from obscurity to making real change happen for an island bursting with talent.

To begin with, the opener, clichéd but necessary – how did Pettah Effect come to be?

Over the years, what we have found is that in Sri Lanka, there’s a gap from the school-leavers to the industry market. That is if you consider school children, you have Ananda College, Royal College, and DS Senanayake who are having big concerts like SAGA, Theewra, and Prashasthi – all of which gather so much of talent. Then if you look at the recent past, how much of that talent has actually made it to the industry? To name some names, we’d say just the one – Shanuka.

And so the question became – yes, there exists a gap and how do we bridge this?

To best remedy the issue, we had to look at why this gap exists; and what we found is that Lankan parents would never let their children pursue music as a career, and so as a society we will not accept a child as a musician. The other reason is there is limited to no economic resources and proper guidance.

And so, we created a platform to provide artistes the means to further their careers by offering access to technology, resources, and knowledge that will improve their chances of success.

Q. What is the role of a record label in an industry such as ours? Why would an artiste choose to sign with Pettah Effect?

Like we said before, there is a lack of resources and support. Let’s say you have the support and also some guidance. The next step is to do something with your talent and the organic next step is to do a cover, but to make a cover video you need some capital – even if you get most of your friends involved, you will be spending a minimum of Rs. 40,000 on the production. Then you have to learn the social media aspect of it in order to properly boost it.

Even if you do that, if you look at the numbers there’s only 800,000 people in Sri Lanka on Instagram. From that, according to the music that you are singing, if 800,000 is the mass market, then 100,000 can be in your niche. So how do you make money being an artiste?

We’re here to facilitate that process of moving from independent artiste to professional musician. We are here to bridge the gap.

Q. One of your taglines reads “an independent record label, an industry alternative”. What is the significance of that statement? What does it mean for Pettah Effect as a whole?

It is not a traditional record label. While a traditional label would sign you – they’ll find talent and then require that they put in a certain number of hours and record a contracted number of songs. However, we’ve adopted a different approach.

We provide a unique and bespoke programme, tailored precisely to the needs of our new artistes. We have a unique and valuable developmental toolset that is unparalleled, access to the studios and leading industry facilities, and access to finance.

We provide training for our artistes who will learn from creative and cutting-edge producers, technical experts, business professionals, and established and experienced names across the music industry.
Imagine a scenario where you are allowed all necessary resources – knowledge, guidance, training, and financial support. All the artistes have to do is worry about the music. This way we empower artistes to take control of their career.

Q. Why is this approach necessary, this grooming from top to bottom, almost factory producing an artiste? An approach that is somewhat controversial in the west, particularly with the emergence of K-pop groups, all hyper produced and formulaic.

Talent alone is 5% of the game, but when you pick out these artistes, we put them through an entire process – beginning with workshops, voice training, and auditions, that grooms them and gives them the knowledge on how to mature as artistes.

We tell them how to dress, how to cut their hair, and mind you this is all done by specialists. That is they’re being styled by specialists, guided by the best in business, and coached by leaders in the game – Monique Pallegama, Julius Mitchell, Mike De Silva, and Dmitri Gunatilake to name a few.

The process is a full 360o, and to be perfectly frank that’s just how the industry works. The label often decides for the artiste how best they should market themselves, but never at the integrity of the artiste’s identity – but they must figure out their identity to begin with.

Q. Isn’t there a worry that in putting them through the mill, they will pick up some uniformity, and that you will struggle in retaining an artiste’s original flavour?

To begin with, following years of experience and exposure to young artistes, we can say there’s no such thing as “originality” amongst freshers. They’re very influenced by pop culture and often in this bubble, and they begin to grow only when they start listening to music beyond what is in the media.

The thing is, they are all still quite young, 20-23, but give it three more years – test and fail and then you will really find out who you are and what your flavour is.

For example, when we have auditions we have people coming up to us asking how they will know what their genre is. “How do I find my ‘thing’?” is a common question, but in situations like that all we can say is how would we know? If you haven’t tested it and if you haven’t failed, then you wouldn’t know. Because it takes time to figure out what works for you.

Our goal is to enter a Sri Lankan artiste in the global charts, and to do that there is a system. If you look at renowned labels like Sony or Virgin Records, they go so far as to micromanage every tiny detail in an artiste’s career. It’s a system that’s been tried and tested. If you look at the greats, even Michael Jackson is a product of the system.

Q. Bathiya from industry greats BnS without fail advices young artistes not to fall into the “YouTube cover trap”, but Pettah Effect has made covers their bread and butter, you encourage it. How do you see yourself moving on from making cover music?

Our final idea is originals, because obviously you can’t make it to the charts on a cover. However, it is practically impossible to build up an audience and/or do live shows with original music from the very beginning. No one will come to see the show. How many of you will actually go to see the original music of an obscure artiste?

Regardless, our ultimate goal is definitely original music, which is why we have “Rendezvous”. We started the live concert as an extreme way to field-test our artistes and create a space for them to express themselves without running the risk of making rookie mistakes.

Being a professional means having a large repertoire of songs in your arsenal, and with live concerts that’s what we do. We train them outside of their comfort zones. We scrap all the security songs that most fresh artistes have – the ones you sing to your family, to your girlfriend/boyfriend, what you sing at church. We take those 4 or 5 songs and give them brand new ones completely different to their comfort-zone genre.

The idea here is that it allows you room to test and fail, much like a sand box. Failing is okay, but our method is very extreme. If you start at 9 a.m. in the studio, you may be in the studio until 9 a.m. the next day.

You can’t leave until you get it right. We have people who cry and leave, but if you go home that’s the end of it. But if you cry and pick yourself back up, figure it out, and give it another shot, then you succeed. The method is very extreme, but if you withstand it there are results.

Q. Live concerts are public, so your failure is very public. Can one afford that kind of failure while building up their name as an artiste?

Yes, because if you look at people who actually know music, there’s very little in Sri Lanka. Maybe a handful would know that a certain song should be sung a certain way and there are pitching issues and such, and only very few people will spot such critical elements in a live concert setting. The majority of people would enjoy the overall concert.

Q. “Rendezvous – Pettah Effect live in concert,” a fitting title if there ever was one. This is your third live concert following two very successful ones in 2018. What can people expect?

All that we can say is you will be coming to witness the hustle and determination of Sri Lanka’s upcoming artistes.

The show will be at Hatch, and we’re expecting around 300-400 people. We have 20 artistes who are concert ready at Pettah Effect right now. However, at rendezvous only 12 will perform They will be working under four music directors.

We have a line-up of fantastic performances, and like we said before, originals are our ultimate goal and we will be featuring five new originals at the show.

The thing is, there needs to be a market development for original music to do well, because at present there isn’t such a market. So first, we must develop that market and then also create for it.

Our objective is to possibly have an album concert of sorts by the fifth or sixth Rendezvous, of entirely originals.

Finally, when asked what they wish to be their closing remarks, they simply wished to name some names and express their gratitude and thanks to the following incredible people – Inura Jayasuriya, Monique Pallegama, Dmitri Gunatilake, Julius Mitchell, Mike De Silva, Tehani Tissera, Chinthani Seneviratne, Shalom Samuel, Hasnika Swaris, and Thushantha Kariyawasam.

Composing original music and branching into international markets is the dream for this small group of artistes looking to make a big impact.
A group that is wholesome in their inclusivity, true to their name “Pettah Effect” – a place where anyone is welcome, a place for artistes to comfortably tell their story. The groups manifesto reads “Persons of any gender identity or expression, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, or ability are welcome at Pettah Effect,” you simply can’t get more inclusive than that.

“Rendezvous – Pettah Effect live in concert” will be held on Saturday, April 27 2019 at 7 p.m. – 12 a.m., at Hatch 14, Sir Baron Jayathilake Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Facebook: @PettahEffect
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